The Church's Global Mission: Biblical Foundations

From Genesis to Revelation

World evangelism? Where in the Bible does it say that?

If you were to ask people attending a service of your church this week for a list of Bible passages having to do with world missions, how many verses would be on their lists?

The first missionary scripture to be mentioned might be the Great Commission in Matthew 28 or the similar wording in Mark 16:15. Acts 1:8 would likely be mentioned and maybe Paul's "Macedonian call" in Acts 16. Someone might think of Matthew 24:14 ("This gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world . . . and then the end will come"). Perhaps someone would mention the passage in Romans 10, which includes the question, "How can they hear without someone preaching to them?" At that point, however, most believers will bog down and start looking puzzled trying to think of other Bible passages relating to the task of world evangelism.

More on Matthew 24:14

A few centuries ago, the books of the Bible were divided into 1189 chapters and about 31,000 verses. Think about those numbers in the light of how many times people think world missions is referred to in Scripture. When people think the topic of world missions is mentioned in less than a half dozen of 31,000 total verses, do they, therefore, rightly conclude that God doesn't place a very high priority on world evangelism?

Indeed, not long ago, Donnamie Ali, Nazarene Missions International Global Council member from Trinidad wrote, "There are far too many Christians in the Western world, including my tiny island nation, who are so caught up in the advancement of their local church or district that they refuse to obey God's call for us to be engaged in making disciples in the nations of the world."

Actually, world missions is talked about in A LOT more than a half dozen verses of the Bible. The Bible begins with a missions-related thought. Genesis 1:1 proclaims Yahweh as the Creator of the whole world. Doesn't that mean the whole world owes Him allegiance and that He alone has the right to be worshiped by people from every people group on the face of the earth?

The first eleven chapters of Genesis set the stage for the fulfillment of God's first, though somewhat veiled, promise to send a Redeemer (Genesis 3:15). Then, in Genesis 12, God takes a giant step forward by choosing Abraham. God's concluding words in his call to Abraham that day were: "All peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Genesis 12:3). God repeats that covenant to Abraham and then later renews it with Isaac and then with Jacob (Genesis 18:18;22:17-18; 26:24 and 28:12-14). When the covenant was renewed with Isaac and Jacob, God added the phrase "and your descendants." That makes it clear that, through the ages, Abraham's descendants (which Paul says in Galatians 3 means spiritual descent rather than physical descent) are to be involved in passing on God's blessing to all the families of the earth.

John R. W. Stott noted that God did not choose Abraham because "he lost interest in other peoples." God's reason for choosing Abraham, says Stott, was to have a channel through which He would bless all the families of the earth.

The promise of blessing to all peoples through Abraham's descendants is a promise that the Apostle John would see fulfilled. John describes that fulfillment in Revelation 7:9: "I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb."

Between the promise of Genesis 12:3 and the vision of its fulfillment in Revelation 7, the Bible is replete with indicators of God's passion that all peoples would know and serve Him.

At Sinai, the Lord told Moses to say to the people, "Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests" (Exodus 19:5-6). An entire kingdom of priests? Would that mean God wanted His "chosen people" all of them -- to be His agents of reconciliation? Several decades ago, Norman Gottwald wrote an Old Testament introductory book which he called A Light to the Nations. That title by a man most would call a "liberal" Bible scholar was a recognition of how much the words of Isaiah 49:6 define what God expected of His "chosen people."

After the crossing of the Jordan River, Joshua told the Israelites that God "did this so that all peoples of the earth might know" (Joshua 4:24). When Solomon prayed the dedicatory prayer for the Temple he had just constructed in Jerusalem, he said that the Temple had been built "so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name" (1 Kings 8:43).

Leaf through the book of Psalms. Again and again, you will see phrases like "ends of the earth", "all nations,1" "the whole earth," "the peoples," and "all the earth." Wilma Holleman-Beudeker, a Nazarene missionary from the Netherlands, recently wrote, "I have heard so often the lines in the Psalms speaking about the nations and peoples of the earth, but it never dawned on me to connect this to God's mission in the world in which we participate."

The prophets often affirm that the world, not just Israel, is God's focus. A prime example is Isaiah 45:44: "Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth." Or, remember Jonah's story? Contrary to popular thought, that little two-and-a-half-page "book" is not a lesson in obedience. Rather,Jonah's story is the missionary book of the Old Testament. It is a clear call for us to get our hearts in line with God's heart which is full of love for all nations, even those we might consider to be our enemies.

Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, He gave seven commands that are known collectively as the Great Commission. They are:

  1. Receive
  2. Go
  3. Witness
  4. Proclaim
  5. Disciple
  6. Baptize
  7. Train

This oft-quoted "Great Commission," which has "go" as the second of its sub-commands, is not all that Jesus had to say about world evangelism. There is more, much more.

For example, not long after Jesus began His ministry, He preached what we call "The Sermon on the Mount." In that sermon, Jesus gives His followers a model prayer (The Lord's Prayer). One of the first petitions in that prayer is a missionary one: "Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." His will cannot fully be done on earth until "every knee" bows before Him. So, isn't that oft-repeated prayer for His will to "be done on earth" a world missionary prayer?

Another example: While dying on a Roman cross, Jesus cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Believers have long speculated about what Jesus meant by His question. Some of the conclusions drawn do not fit well with our understanding of God as triune. After all, how could God forsake God?

There is a good chance we've been on the wrong path in trying to understand those words of Jesus. Is it possible that Jesus did something that preachers have done through the ages: give a line or two of a song in a sermon, knowing that the rest of the song will start bouncing around in their listeners' heads? Could it be that Jesus was quoting those opening words from Psalm 22 in order to get people to think of the closing thought of Psalm 22: "All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him"?

The point of all this is to say that world missions is not merely contained in the Bible. The world missions enterprise does not merely find a basis in the Bible. The Bible not only encourages world evangelism; it demands it. From beginning to end, the Bible is an intensely missionary book. As Nina Gunter, former global Nazarene Missions International leader and retired Nazarene General Superintendent, said, "If you take missions out of the Bible, you won't have anything left but the covers."

Here's a sampling of Bible passages (Old Testament and New Testament) revealing God's heart for all peoples on earth

1Note: In the Bible, the word "nations" does not mean political entities like China, India, and the USA. Rather, it means people groups or societies in which people speak the same language, have the same culture, and live in or have originated the same area. "Nations" is synonymous with the plural word "peoples." In other words, nations in the Bible means all of the world's people groups other than the people of Israel.

Discussion questions

  1. What relationship might there be between the concept of God as the Creator of the world in Genesis 1:1 and the idea that all people owe Him allegiance and should worship Him?
  2. In what ways can it be said that God's covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12:3 establishes a responsibility for his descendants, both spiritual and physical, to pass on God's blessing to all the families of the earth?
  3. Why can it be said that the repeated mention of "all peoples on earth" and "all nations" in various Bible passages reflects God's passion for all peoples to know and serve Him?
  4. What significance do the passages in the Old Testament, such as Isaiah 49:6 and Jonah's story, hold in emphasizing God's love for all nations and His desire for His chosen people to be agents of reconciliation?
  5. Why can it be said that the Great Commission and other New Testament passages, like Matthew 24:14 and Acts 1:8, reinforce rather than initiate the biblical foundation for world evangelism?

    -- Howard Culbertson.

This essay on the biblical foundations for the Church of Jesus Christ to be heavily involved in world missions activity was written for Engage, an online magazine.

God desires that all people come to knoiw Him

The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, consistently emphasizes the importance of evangelistic activity, highlighting God's desire for all people to come to know Him. The reasons and scriptural references supporting this assertion include:

  1. God's Promise to Abraham: In Genesis, God promises Abraham that through his offspring, "all peoples on earth will be blessed" (Genesis 12:3, 22:18). This covenant sets the stage for a universal mission, indicating that God's blessings are intended for all nations.
  2. The Universal Scope of God's Kingdom: The Old Testament prophets often speak of God's plan to extend His salvation beyond Israel to all nations. For instance, Isaiah proclaims, "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth" (Isaiah 49:6).
  3. The Great Commission: In the New Testament, Jesus explicitly commands His disciples to engage in evangelistic activity. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 instructs, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."
  4. Acts and the Early Church: The book of Acts details the spread of the Gospel from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The early church's missionary activities, led by apostles like Paul, demonstrate a commitment to global evangelism.
  5. Paul's Missionary Journeys: Paul's letters and missionary journeys underscore the New Testament's emphasis on evangelism. Romans 1:16 emphasizes that the Gospel "is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile."
  6. God's Heart for All People: Throughout the Bible, there is a recurring theme of God's desire for all people to know Him. 1 Timothy 2:4 states that God "wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." Similarly, 2 Peter 3:9 notes that God is "not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."
  7. The Vision of Revelation: The book of Revelation culminates in a vision of a diverse, multiethnic multitude worshiping God. Revelation 7:9 describes "a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb."


From the promises made to Abraham in Genesis to the prophetic visions of Revelation, the Bible consistently highlights God's intention for His message of salvation to reach all corners of the earth. This overarching narrative emphasizes the need for world evangelistic activity, reflecting God's universal mission to redeem humanity and establish His kingdom among all nations.

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